Airports and opportunities vs. The Block

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Strategic Vision:
To become a premier regional commercial airport that stimulates the socioeconomic development of Simcoe County and the City of Barrie by improving connectivity, enhancing the competitiveness of the region and improving the quality of life for its residents.
Mission Statement:
To drive the region’s economic prosperity, enhance business opportunities, increase the region’s competitive position and support the travel needs of the community through increased connectivity.

So opens a report on the opportunities and challenges facing the Simcoe Regional Airport, presented to the county’s Committee of the Whole session, May 22. You can see it here, starting at page 23. The other quotes on this page are all from that report, unless otherwise identified.

Ship of fools
Ship of fools: our council

Quite a different approach from the one that most of Collingwood Council took towards our airport, isn’t it?

For a start this was done in public, not in secret as the Block – our very own Ship of Fools, rudderless on the ocean of governance – loves to conduct its business (especially when public assets are concerned). Second, it was positive, forward-thinking, and backed by facts, not the sort of negative, paranoid conspiracy theory The Block wallows in.

Airports in a modern global economy provide the critical connectivity to markets and knowledge-based resources that in turn represent key drivers of the economy. Airports themselves are not the destination but a conduit that provides critical connectivity.
“Airports play a considerable role in economic development and the most important cargo they move is people” – Richard Florida, Professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

I imagine this presentation made our Deputy Mayor, Brian Saunderson, squirm in great discomfort during the meeting. After all, here’s a consultant not only saying airports are good, but should be kept AND invested in! And that they bring economic growth and opportunities! Backed by actual facts, too! Quite a slap in the face to Brian’s Block, whose wacky conspiracy theory states airports are bad, costly, and should be disposed of without considering their value or economic potential.

By 2043 air travel demand in Southern Ontario will increase to 110 million passengers and a million tonnes of cargo – compared to the 47 million passengers and 400,000 tonnes of cargo in 2017.

So there’s growth predicted and a future in airports and an opportunity for a forward-thinking government to capture some of that business. But instead of wanting to embrace that growth and prepare for a better, more economically vibrant future, the ostrich-like Block are running away from it as fast as they can. They decided (in secret, behind closed doors, and without any public consultation or engagement, as they always do) to sell our publicly-owned airport instead of even investigating the opportunities.

But you already know they’re virulently anti-business, so that’s no surprise.

Eleven of the region’s most commercially significant airports working to support the increasing demand and unlock the economic benefit growth will bring… Airlines are more motivated to increase point to point air service that utilizes regional airports and avoids major hub airports.

Ignorance is bliss
Ignorance is bliss

Ah, but Collingwood seems alone in bucking that trend. The Block believe it’s better to stick its collective head in the sand and thus avoid having to deal with anything related to economic development, jobs, or our future. They are trying desperately NOT to take advantage of those benefits because The Block doesn’t want our airport to become the successful, thriving regional airport we could be. That would debunk their conspiracy theory and show their ideology up as the myopic idiocy the rest of us know it to be.

Connections between cities and markets generate a catalytic economic opportunity by:
• Opening up regional, national and global markets to businesses and citizens alike. Domestic airports in Canada offer over 69 million seats with connections to 264 airports
• Expanding tourism opportunities
• Attracting and retaining businesses that rely on access to reliable air transport for efficiency and productivity (35% of trade value moves by air)
• Enhancing accessibility, convenience and reliability of connectivity for regional residents
• Direct and indirect job creation and labour force diversification

Economic opportunity? Expanded tourism? Retaining and attracting business? Connectivity? Convenience? Balderdash, say the Block! Sell the damn thing instead!

The report recommends upgrading and enhancing the Simcoe County Regional Airport to the tune of $27.5 million in phase one and $38 million for phase two. That’s a significant commitment to the future. Compare that to Collingwood where The Block have refused to put any money into airport redevelopment or upgrades. However, they all eagerly threw $100,000 of your tax dollars at a consultant to sell it. Commitment? Future? Not here.

Imagine how the value of our own airport is falling now the county has revealed its strategic plan and potential funding for the regional airport. Which would you invest in: an airport with a future, or one that is being dumped on the market by a municipality desperate to avoid commitments to it?

Remember the “Community-Based Strategic Plan” that The Block commissioned in 2015 (aka the wish list that was neither community-based nor a strategic plan)? Guess how many times the airport was mentioned in it? Right: NONE. As you might expect. Well, to be fair, the entire report was diaphanous piffle with no timelines, budget or measurable goals. But to overlook the airport entirely? Typical of The Block’s myopic vision for Collingwood.

Where other communities see the value in investing in their airports, The Block are simply blind. As they are to everything that is good for the community and its future (but they are very wide-eyed when it comes to seeing an entitlement for themselves).

Competitiveness is driven by cities’ economic assets and the return they deliver through investment and business growth… In other countries, airports and governments are increasingly leveraging airport and transport assets to strengthen regional and local economies and create vibrant cities… Canada’s airports are more than staging points for the departure and arrival of people and goods. They are strategic and economic infrastructure assets that significantly contribute to Canada’s employment & prosperity.
Canadian Global Cities report on the Economic Value of Airports, 2016

The blind leading the blind
The blind leading the blind

Our own airport will not be able to develop, upgrade, or take advantage of the growth opportunities while we have this anti-business group on council. The Block has collectively and aggressively fought it at every opportunity. Nothing regional will happen because The Block are phobic about anything regional or cooperative with other communities. While Brian and his bunch are at the table, everything related to growth, business, economic development or regional cooperation are in limbo.

The Block have hamstrung our hospital’s redevelopment and complained to the Ministry of Health about its plans; crippled our airport’s future (and the 1,400 jobs it would bring in), hobbled our local construction industry with self-serving bylaws, ignored our BIA (they wouldn’t even assign a council rep to the board in their first year!), emaciated tourist events like the once-popular Elvis Festival, raised taxes (four times in as many years), and have made a closed-door deal to raise electricity rates for businesses and industry (if the privatization to EPCOR goes ahead). But in the meantime they’ve raised property taxes four times, given themselves a pay raise four times, and granted Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey free spending to pursue her personal political goals outside town at taxpayer expense.

Read these quotes below, and weep at our lost opportunities, all tossed away by The Block simply because some of them have a petty personal vendetta against one of the partners in the Clearview Aviation Business Park, and that they prefer unsubstantiated conspiracy theories over facts:

• “The operation of one corporate aircraft generates 6.1 person years in employment, earning approximately $460,000 in wages. $690,000 in direct GDP and $1.7 million in direct economic output to the regional economy.” – CBAA – Economic Impact of Business Aviation Operations and Business Aircraft Manufacturing in Canada – Final Report – 2016
• “A three-times-daily air service with a 75 seat aircraft would generate 78 full time equivalents (FTEs) and over $10 million in local economic output (direct, indirect and induced)”. – Lakeland Linder Regional Airport Economic Impact of Air Service Study – 2015
• “A 50% increase in air traffic growth corresponds to a 7.4% increase in real GDP over a 20 year period” – Bruce Blonigen and Anca Crista, Airports and Urban Growth – 2012
• “In the 19th century, rail was the major form of transportation. The central focus of cities was often the railway station. In the 20th century, investment in infrastructure shifted to roads, bridges, and parking garages. In the 21st century, air travel has become more common and affordable, airports now rank amongst the most visible public infrastructure projects, serving as the “front door” to the cities and regions they serve.” – Stanis Smith, Rise of the Aerotropolis – 2016

The Simcoe Regional Airport will grow and flourish because it will have support, sufficient funding, and a strategic plan. So could Collingwood’s airport have grown, had not The Block put up roadblocks to its growth these past four years. Brian and his group alienated our municipal partners so severely that both Wasaga Beach and Clearview withdrew their members from the airport board and stopped their funding for it.

The Airport has the potential to transition from a local community airport to a key catalyst supporting economic growth and development in Simcoe County and the City of Barrie by providing increased connectivity, access, and competitive positioning.

Consider how many these following admonitions apply equally to Collingwood:

• Remaining as ‘status quo’ will result in not only missing these current opportunities but future opportunities will follow the same path as the original growth. Our loss will be their gain today and in the future.
• Our inability to capitalize on these and other opportunities to bring jobs, diversify our workforce, and enhance our regional economy.
• Without the ability to accommodate corporate aviation, commercial air service, and overall connectivity, the region will lose some of its
competitiveness to other communities that have airports that can accommodate these activities
• Without future investment in the development of Lake Simcoe Regional Airport, there is the potential that existing tenants and operators may choose to relocate to regional airports that have made investments.

Any of them relevant to Collingwood? Right: ALL of them. We’re losing our chance to share in these opportunities and it’s because of the seven-headed hydra we call The Block. The report concludes with:

• It is important to recognize not only the potential economic and social benefit, but also the cost of non-action.
• The vision for the Airport is based on a range of business opportunities and industry trends that will benefit the communities around the Airport.
• The Airport represents a key driver of regional economic development and prosperity.

Lost opportunities
An appropriate name tag for The Blockheads.

Note these key words: “recognize,” “opportunities,” “economic development,” “regional.” The Block can’t recognize anything outside their own entitlements. They don’t see opportunities, only threats and conspiracies (comes from doing all their business in secret, behind closed doors). And the whole concept of economic development is alien to them. That’s something that benefits others, not themselves, so they’re not interested in it. Regional? Don’t make me laugh.

When it comes time to give his county report at the council table, I expect Saunderson will gloss over this presentation. He likely won’t say a word about how it explained the benefits of regional airports and how they contribute to local economies. I suspect he will ignore the compelling reasons it offers to keep and further develop our own airport.

And no, I don’t believe that he will come to his senses now that the former CAO isn’t in office to coach him on how to think or vote. The toxic Kool-Aid’s already been drunk.

We may still be able to take advantage of these opportunities, this growth and these jobs at our own airport. All we need to do it to vote EVERY SINGLE ONE of the seven Blockheads out of office this coming election. That would pave the way for forward-thinking, conscientious and ethical politicians who actually give a damn about the rest of the community and not just about their own entitlements.

Collingwood deserves better.

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